Who Wants to Feel at Home When They are Abroad?

11.02.2018 Pedraza and Riaza (12)

I dislike feeling at home when I’m abroad, George Bernard Shaw

These words of George Bernard Shaw are in the opening scene of Widowers’ Houses, his first play to be staged in 1892.  This opening scene is set in Remagen on the Rhine in Germany where Harry Trench and his friend William Cokane are travelling.  William Cokane meets a Gentleman who does not share Cokane’s excitement at hearing English spoken while in Germany.

THE GENTLEMAN [to Cokane] We are fellow travellers, I believe, sir.

COKANE. Fellow travellers and fellow countrymen. Ah, we rarely feel the charm of our own tongue until it reaches our ears under a foreign sky. You have no doubt noticed that?

THE GENTLEMAN [a little puzzled] Hm ! From a romantic point of view, possibly, very possibly. As a matter of fact, the sound of English makes me feel at home; and I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.  It is not precisely what one goes to the expense for. 

Many travellers will relate to this, none of us want to waste the expense of going abroad and then feel like we are in the UK.  I do want places to feel different to home and in some way foreign; either the food, the language, the culture or the architecture should be shouting out to tell me I am somewhere other than home.

That said, on a campsite in another country hearing English spoken can be lovely.  Much as I love talking to my partner, after a few weeks away it can be exciting to talk to someone else in ‘our own tongue’ rather than struggling in the local language where I have only limited small talk and mostly rely on gestures and a handful of words.  Other travellers are a mine of information; they often give recommendations for good campsites or places to visit and they might have a top camping tip or know about roads to avoid or have entertaining travellers tales.

When we travelled around southern Europe for a year in our former campervan in 2009 / 2010 I was certainly very pleased to meet fellow English travellers as this sometimes meant I would find books to swap.  We had nowhere near enough room in our VW to carry all the books I could read in 12 months and I relied on campsite book swaps and other campers to get new reading material.  If there was someone from the UK around I would take the pile of books I had read round to them and ask nicely if they had anything to swap.  This approach revealed some gems and was a great opener for making new friends.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Apply Marginal Thinking to Financial Independence and Frugality

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A Portuguese cat looking down on us

Maybe in 2018 I took my eye off our financial ball.  Maybe I thought I had got the hang of being frugal, I was complacent and we ended up with a higher spending year than our budget allowed.  I thought we were in the frugal groove, I relaxed and wasn’t frugal 100% of the time.  Some people suggest you can’t take time out and that it is better to be frugal every minute of every day, staying in control and never allowing any marginal spending that will be the start of the path to profligacy!

Clayton Christensen tells his readers:

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.” 

He argues that if you follow your rules 98% of the time and make the assumption that doing something ‘just this once’ is a marginal action and negligible in the bigger picture, in the long run you will pay a higher cost.

An example … There are times when – in some particular extenuating circumstances – you might think of breaking the law with a small-time low-level crime that doesn’t hurt anyone.  Analysing your action based on the marginal cost, you figure the chances of being caught and going to jail are low.  But then small lies or wrong-doings can lead to further covering up and more lies, quickly snowballing and very soon the price doesn’t seem so low.  Hold your moral boundaries 100% of the time and you can be happy with who you are.

It is only human to use this marginal-cost analysis.  I am certainly guilty of occasionally buying just this one thing on the spur of the moment, rather than following our think-about-it-for-a-month policy.  Is this a slippery slope?  Will that one purchase snowball and lead to extravagance?

I am not totally convinced with this argument and think I might be happy with achieving frugality 98% of the time; however, I recognise that being aware of what is happening is a useful first step in considering your action, acknowledging it and finding strategies to avoid it in the future.

And yet … If I do buy something on the spur of the moment it is something I do with a full picture of our finances.  Everything we spend is noted, a manual process I find gives me time to thoroughly examine our outgoings.  It gives me the opportunity to question if any spur-of-the-moment purchase, however marginal, really did bring contentment or meet a need.  The process also means I will spot trends early enough to make changes.  A small just-because purchase doesn’t necessarily throw everything out of kilter.

I don’t think I did take my eye off the ball in 2018, my own way through a frugal life continues.  In 2018 one of the main reasons we over-spent was because of maintenance and repairs on our campervan.  These were in no way marginal costs, they weren’t negotiable and I don’t see them as an extravagant trend.

We all have our own ways of being frugal, some people continue to enjoy restaurant meals, others still want to spend money on looking good or have expensive holidays.  Everyone works it out for themselves.  Being frugal 100% of the time, avoiding unnecessary purchases and avoiding any marginal spending might be an ideal … but then again I am only human!

 

A week of stunning hill walking around Arrochar & Loch Lomond in Scotland

The Cobbler

A week of good weather in Scotland in April was such a gift. One that gave us plenty of opportunity for some great hill walking around the Loch Lomond and Arrochar areas just north of Glasgow.

We started off with a mountain that was once a Munro (A Scottish mountain that is over 3,000 foot / 917 m) but it was demoted when more accurate surveys found it to be just short of the magic number. That doesn’t mean Beinn an Lochain is an easy walk and for our first day out on the hills it felt like tough going. The accent is steep and relentless with sections more of a scramble than a walk but the reward is great views. We set off and returned to the lay-by after the Rest and be Thankful summit on the A83. The path fades away in places and there are false summits to dent the motivation of tired walkers like me but it was a great start to the week.

A couple of days later we set off up The Cobbler or Ben Arthur. At only 884 m high this doesn’t make it to Munro status either but you start walking at sea level so gain more height than you do for many a Munro. The Cobbler is a distinctive hill that is full of character and justifiably popular. It was busy on the sunny day we walked up it but we didn’t see anyone climb the final pinnacle to the true summit. Instead we watched plenty of people having fun clambering through the gap in the rock to pose for a dramatic photograph. After scrambling up the front we descended around the back to the path that goes to Beinn Ime meeting a young woman heading for Beinn Ime. She was concerned about her mum who was somewhere behind and planned to descend alone. Her mum passed us as we stopped for a rest later and smiled when we revealed how her daughter had shared her concern with strangers.

Ben Vorlich above Loch Lomond was our final mountain of the week. For some reason this 943 m peak isn’t a popular hill and we had it to ourselves. It is another steep ascent and despite it being a fine day the summit caught the wind and we huddled below the ridge wrapped in all our layers to eat our picnic lunch. That said the views over Loch Lomond and Loch Sloy were worth the slog up. We went up and down Ben Vorlich from Ardlui on the banks of Loch Lomond.

In between the hills we enjoyed ‘rest days’ with some peaceful walking in and around Glen Fruin, a lovely glen above Helensburgh. There are military buildings here, some dating back to World War Two and a memorial to the 17 th century Battle of Glen Fruin. We walked some of the Three Lochs Way along the ‘Yankee Road’ built by Americans and another legacy of the Second World War. The views to Gare Loch far below and the Faslane Naval Base from this high road are stunning.

Flood defence & storage basin: #surprisingsalford #43

The opening of the Salford flood storage basin was a big deal.  Anyone who remembers the terrible floods of 2015 will be relieved to see improved flood prevention up and running.  The River Irwell has burst its banks many times over the centuries; notably in September and October 1946 5,300 homes were flooded.  The most recent flooding was on Boxing Day 2015; after a day and a half of constant rainfall 2,250 homes across Greater Manchester were flooded and over 500 businesses.  Water rushing into your home is devastating and for many of the families it took many months for their lives to get back to anything like normal.

The Salford Flood Basin opened in 2018.  I intended to visit earlier but other things got in the way and it was a fine but cold wintry day when I eventually got there.  I cycled along the River Irwell to the flood basin and entering along the path from Great Cheetham Street West.  Arriving at the flood basin I was firstly aware of  the size, it is huge (five hectares apparently).

At a cost of £10 million, we are told that the basin is big enough to hold more than 250 Olympic-size swimming pools of water and will protect almost 2,000 homes and businesses from flooding.  In addition, the scheme has created an urban wetland habitat and a green space for Salford residents.  A 2.5 km footpath runs around the periphery of the basin and on a sunny day this will be a peaceful place to stroll, well away from the bustle of the city.

The photograph at the top of the post shows one of the two kiosks on the site.  The colourful designs were decorated by Manchester graffiti artist, kELzO.

How does a flood storage basin work?

The basin is a sort of natural flood plain in the middle of the city.  Sitting within a sweeping meander of the River Irwell, the area was excavated and the soil used to create an embankment around the edge of the site.  This embankment is a flood defence in itself but if needed the storage basin can be flooded in a controlled way. through an inlet in one corner.  When the river levels are high excess water can be diverted into the storage basin where it will be stored and released back into the river when water levels have subsided.

It is hoped that this and the existing flood storage area at Littleton Road will prevent devastation like that seen on Boxing Day 2015 in the future.

 

1,000 Nights in Our Campervan Journals

Our campervan journals
Our Campervan journals

Does everyone keep a journal in their campervan?  We started doing this early on in our campervan career and I am often glad we have a simple record of our camping life.  We didn’t keep a journal for our first ‘van; we were newbies and it didn’t cross our mind … but once we got in the swing of being campervan owners we wanted a record of where we had stayed.  I grabbed a spare exercise book [no expensive notebooks for two frugal travellers] drew in some columns and started our first journal.

In each journal I write the date, the name of the campsite and place, the overnight cost, the number of nights we are staying and a brief description and review of the site.  I also use the journal to note things that we often forget such as when we last emptied the loo!  These journals started when we bought our Devon Sundowner in 2007 and have continued ever since.

We are now on our third campervan journal.   The notebooks all live in the ‘van and we refer to them regularly.  We often arrive on a site we have been on before and wonder how long ago it was since we were last there [it is usually longer than we think].  At other times we might want to remind ourselves what we thought of a particular site while planning a trip to help us consider if it is worth returning to.  Sometimes we just browse the journals for some misty-eyed reminiscing.

Although there is no journal from our holidays in our T4 we do know how many nights we spent in it thanks to photographs and diary jottings.  On the front of the journals I keep a tally of the number of nights we have been away during the year and in a particular campervan as well as a total of our nights under a tin roof.  Last summer we passed the milestone of 1,000 nights sleeping in a campervan in the eleven years we have been practising this van life.

We passed this 1,000 night’s milestone while we were camping in northern Italy.  We were staying near Arsiè and although neither of us were getting flashes of déjà-vu I was looking through the journals because we were both pretty sure we had stayed nearby back in 2009.  Flicking through the book to check where we had stayed we found we had been on the same site!   We were flabbergasted!  Where had the large sweet-smelling walnut tree we are sure we camped under gone?  Where was the green gently-sloping field down to the lake?  Either our combined memories were seriously faulty or they had re-developed the site beyond all recognition.  We would certainly never have known we had been there before without the journals.

These notebooks are packed with happy and vivid memories that I don’t want to let go of.  If you don’t keep a campervan journal then I suggest you start now.

Meet Fern: her green stems are packed with memories

Fern
Hello Fern!

Meet Fern.  She is one of my older acquaintances.  As a youngster she lived with my grandma, growing into the fine specimen you now see.  Her exact birth date is lost in the mists of time but could be sometime in the 1970s as she was always there when I visited my lovely grandma.  When my grandma died in the early 1980s, no one else in the family wanted Fern and she was in danger of being abandoned so I happily adopted her.

My grandma lived next door to my childhood home and her house was a haven of calm.  She always seemed pleased to see me, always had a full biscuit tin and always had interesting stories to tell.  It was my grandma who bought me my first comics, tried to show me how to crochet, took me on my first trip to the Lake District and, when I had a house of my own, taught me my first lessons about growing flowers.  Fern was always there, thriving in the sunny hallway of her bungalow next to the kitchen door.

I took Fern to the cottage I lived in when my grandma died and since then she has moved with us to all the different houses we have owned.  When we had a garden she would spend some time outside during the summer and she regularly gets a haircut, otherwise she would take over the living room!  Occasionally she gets transferred into a new pot.

When we were away for 12 months travelling in our campervan I worried about who would look after Fern.  Our son and daughter-in-law happily stepped up to the mark and fostered her and now she has her own holidays at their house every time we take a long break.  She gets bed and board in their sunny dining room and only occasionally gets harassed by their cat.  She always returns looking bigger and shinier than ever.

It might be a little fanciful but I sometimes imagine all the memories of different window sills and different people that are held in Fern’s bushy green stems.

Fern is an asparagus fern which are renowned for being tough and so, despite being around 50-years old, she isn’t a demanding lodger.  She gets fed when I remember, watered irregularly and mostly she just watches the world go by from her current post, an east-facing window that catches the morning sunshine.  I am pretty certain now that Fern will outlive us both.  My plans for her long-term care are that she will go and live with our son and daughter-in-law permanently and I like to think of them having a link back to my loving grandma that neither of them ever met.

Frugal win and plastic-free fail

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Delicious vegetarian food

After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal.  We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new.   We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.

Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping.  This represented 14% of our spending in 2018.  We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes.  The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].

The savings are clear.  We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget]  As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win.  This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].

I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously.  I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet.  Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free.  Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals.  But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.

Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles.  I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am.  Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart.  Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional.  The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.

If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work!  Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s?  And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging.  Hopefully that is only a matter of time.